Nathalie Walton of Expectful: “Pandemic or not, being a working mother is tough”

As a Black American mother, I’m witnessing crises upon crises. There is a crisis facing all Americans in the form of the pandemic. There is another crisis facing Black Americans in the way of years of systemic racism. And there is also a crisis facing parents as we struggle to balance taking care of our […]

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As a Black American mother, I’m witnessing crises upon crises. There is a crisis facing all Americans in the form of the pandemic. There is another crisis facing Black Americans in the way of years of systemic racism. And there is also a crisis facing parents as we struggle to balance taking care of our families and manage our jobs.

I certainly don’t have the power to end COVID-19, but in my new role at Expectful, I can meaningfully impact parents’ lives and improve Black maternal health outcomes. The opportunity to influence these areas where I see so many individuals suffer has given me so much motivation when life seems bleak.

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Many of us now have new challenges that come with working from home, homeschooling, and sheltering in place.

As a part of our series about how busy women leaders are addressing these new needs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nathalie Walton.

Nathalie is the CEO of Expectful, the go-to wellness app for growing families. Prior to joining Expectful, she held various leadership roles at Airbnb, Google, and eBay. Nathalie has an MBA from The Stanford Graduate School of Business and B.A. in Economics from Georgetown University. She lives in San Francisco with her husband, Max and their son, Everett.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

Last month I stepped in as CEO of Expectful, a wellness and meditation platform for fertility, pregnancy, and parenthood. I’ve spent the last ten years working towards this “dream job,” but I had no idea how I would get here.

My journey is a little unconventional. In 2009, I snuck away from my job as an Investment Analyst at J.P. Morgan in New York to attend a prospective student weekend at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. During that weekend, I discovered the concept of entrepreneurship. I met passionate and accomplished entrepreneurs who defined success on their own terms while building businesses that transformed many lives.

Twelve months later, I packed up everything I owned and moved to Silicon Valley, where I would spend the next decade building the skills and courage to become that entrepreneur I met at Stanford.

I spent the next ten years scaling the ranks of eBay, Google, and Airbnb. I’ve held roles in Product, Operations, and Partnerships while gaining subject matter expertise in commerce and marketplaces. My biggest accomplishment was scaling the number of local retailers on Google Shopping by 10X.

Even though I worked at some of the world’s most admired companies, I always felt like I could be doing more. I was on a constant search for deeper fulfillment. This search launched a self-discovery process that resulted in the cultivation of a wellness practice; I began meditating and practicing yoga daily. I became mindful of my eating, and I read incessantly about finding one’s purpose.

Last year, I had a high-risk pregnancy that resulted in a near-death outcome. My experience as a pregnant and new mother exposed me to the reality of the fragility of emotional and mental support systems for pre and post-natal mothers. One of the tools that I used during pregnancy was Expectful,with meditations specific to my exact needs. Every week during pregnancy, it provided the support to navigate my challenging situation.

While I was on maternity leave, I was connected with Expectful’s founder, Mark Krassner, who was looking for the right person to succeed him as CEO, and when we met, something clicked. As a user, a new mother, and a longstanding wellness enthusiast, this felt like the perfect opportunity at the perfect time. I was passionate about the prospect of making Expectful available to every pregnant woman, especially those whose doctors hadn’t offered the support and resources they could be utilizing. And eleven years later I have reached my destiny.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at your company?

I’ve only been in my new role for the last six weeks, but as 2020 has demonstrated, “There are decades where nothing happens, and there are weeks where decades happen. “ The last few weeks have been no exception to this rule, and we have seen so much discussion around issues that impact our users.

On October 1, the first day of Infant Loss Awareness month, Chrissy Teigan bravely shared her heartbreaking story of losing her baby. It was shocking to see the backlash of criticism that she faced when sharing such a vulnerable moment with the world and how the negativity impacted our community of mothers and mothers-to-be.

We wanted to find a way to support anyone that has experienced a pregnancy loss. So we immediately decided to make our healing library free to anyone that downloads The Expectful App and selects “healing” when setting up the account.

The positive feedback and comments that I received from users who used our healing library were profoundly moving. I’m grateful that we were able to support so many women in a difficult time of need.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I’m working to help parents and babies reclaim sleep. As a mother to a ten-month-old baby, I’ve been operating in a state of sleep deprivation all of 2020. I know that I’m not alone. As compared to before the pandemic, the rate of maternal clinical insomnia has doubled from 11% to 23%.

Expectful just launched a new sound and sleep library, with over 600 minutes of content designed to help both parents and babies sleep. We developed a virtual sound machine that has tracks featuring heartbeats, nature sounds, and velvet noise. We also launched a new library of lullabies, sleep stories, and meditations to help parents (and babies) reclaim their sleep. Last night my son and I listened to the track “Sleepytime Symphony” during his bedtime routine; he blissfully slept for 11 hours.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I am incredibly grateful to Mark Krassner, Expectful’s founder. Mark started Expectful to create mental health and wellness resources for mothers after his mother struggled with depression and anxiety while raising him.

When I began advising Expectful this past spring, I was unaware that Mark was looking for someone to take over the reins of Expectful. Mark later shared that he always envisioned a mother, eventually leading Expectful and asked me if i was interested in stepping in as CEO.

I saw so much opportunity in the company, I loved every minute that I spent with Mark and his team, but the thought to come lead Expectful had never crossed my mind.

That night, I couldn’t sleep. I could not stop thinking about the opportunity. I spent the next week diving deep into every aspect of the business, I met with our investors, and I thought about the future of Expectful. Within 72 hours, it became apparent that I would become the next CEO of Expectul; the company was already doing so well. I knew that my experience and background would allow us to help pregnant and new moms in a way that no other company could.

My vision for Expectful is to build on our success by broadening Expectful’s offerings and growing it into the go-to wellness resource for anyone in their motherhood journey. Expectful will provide universal access to the holistic, evidence-based wellness solutions that have already helped millions of women worldwide. We deserve better than what the current health system is offering us. I’m grateful for the foundation that Mark built, and I’m deeply appreciative of his unwavering conviction in my ability to take the company to the next level.

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Can you articulate to our readers what are the biggest family related challenges you are facing as a woman business leader during this pandemic?

Pandemic or not, being a working mother is tough. I spend anywhere from 30–40 hours a week working as a mother, on top of my paid profession.

COVID-19 has exacerbated many of the systemic challenges that I face as a working mother, but it also allowed me to spend time with my infant son in a way that I could never have imagined. I’m grateful that I’ve been able to share this time with my infant son. I’ve enjoyed watching him crawl for this first time and hearing his laughter in between conference calls.

The biggest downside of COVID-19 related to my family is that my husband and I don’t have the support we need to be working professionals and care for an infant. We’ve had to cobble support together at the expense of our sanity and quality family time.

I hope the dire state of parenting through a pandemic brings to light the challenges that working parents face. The current state of parenting during COVID-19 is unsustainable, but returning to the pre-pandemic state also presents undesirable outcomes.

As a business leader and working mother, I’ve developed so much empathy for all working parents. I hope that more leaders can take the time to understand the myriad challenges that working parents face and allow more flexible working situations.

Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?

While I haven’t solved the challenge of insufficient childcare, I’m fortunate that we live in the same city as our extended family. When my husband and I both returned to work, and our childcare issues became unmanageable, we were grateful to have the help of a grandparent after a two-week quarantine.

The sad reality is that many families don’t have this option. Every business leader needs to understand the extreme pressure that parents face at this time. One-third of my company has a child under the age of two. One of the ways that I help my team is that we constantly revisit our priorities. I make a point to check in with my team and ask how they are managing work and their other job (as a parent). As soon as I hear feedback that the workload is out of balance, we revisit priorities and evaluate where we can cut back. No one benefits when a team member feels overwhelmed.

Can you share the biggest work related challenges you are facing as a woman in business during this pandemic?

The most significant work-related challenge that I face is around lack of childcare. The challenge affects me and impacts all of the parents in my company. Childcare is incredibly expensive, and due to the pandemic, it’s challenging to come by.

There simply aren’t enough hours in the day to finish my work and be a present parent and partner. Sadly, working parents did not have enough time before the pandemic, but COVID-19 has exacerbated the circumstances.

Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?

I’ve addressed these challenges through compassion. I express compassion towards myself and for the people on my team.

I’ve had to let go of any ideas of what I define as a “perfect mother” or “successful CEO.” I had to give myself the grace of knowing that I’m doing the best that I can, and that is good enough.

Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?

To balance work and motherhood during a pandemic, I work late in the evenings and utilize weekend nap times for work.

This strategy is not a long-term sustainable solution, but I’m just trying to survive right now like so many other mothers. It’s essential to be compassionate to myself and my team of mothers while knowing that everyone is just doing the best that they can do at this moment in time.

Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place, or simply staying inside, for long periods with your family?

Meditation. The nature of being a working parent in this pandemic has resulted in working late into the evenings, often just minutes before I go to bed. I found that this habit has negatively impacted my quality of sleep. When I must work late in the evening, I take twenty minutes to do an Expectful body-scan meditation to calm my mind before going to bed. I find that it is the difference between a good and inferior night’s rest. The rejuvenation that I get from a good night’s sleep helps me power through these difficult days.

If you’ve ever struggled to build a meditation practice, my advice is to keep going. I’ve been attempting to practice meditation for the last twenty years, and I have just developed a consistent meditation practice within the previous five years. There are many different types of meditation practices, and it’s just about finding the one that works best for you. I gravitate towards body-scans and mantras.

Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

When the pandemic first began, I held out hope that things would be better by May, then July, then September. We are now almost at the end of the year, and there is no end in sight. Rather than focus on an ever-changing timeline, I shifted my perspective to focus on what I can control.

I reread one of my favorite books this spring, Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. I highlighted this quote, Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

As a Black American mother, I’m witnessing crises upon crises. There is a crisis facing all Americans in the form of the pandemic. There is another crisis facing Black Americans in the way of years of systemic racism. And there is also a crisis facing parents as we struggle to balance taking care of our families and manage our jobs.

I certainly don’t have the power to end COVID-19, but in my new role at Expectful, I can meaningfully impact parents’ lives and improve Black maternal health outcomes. The opportunity to influence these areas where I see so many individuals suffer has given me so much motivation when life seems bleak.

From your experience, what are a few ideas that one can use to effectively offer support to their family and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

It’s heartbreaking to watch the impact of COVID-19 on mental health. In a recent survey of pregnant and new moms, 72% reported struggling with anxiety. At Expectful, we focus on the mental and emotional wellbeing of growing families. Our users share feedback that they feel most supported when they listen to a meditation that acknowledges their feelings because it helps them realize that they are not alone.

I think we can help our family and loved ones at this time by listening to their feelings and showing them they are not alone. understand that they aren’t alone. There is a tremendous amount of suffering happening in the world right now, and it’s okay to feel “off.” Most people are “not okay” right now. The more we understand that we are in this together, the more strength we can draw upon to find a path forward.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My favorite life lesson is from Seneca, “It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested.

I interpret this quote to mean live life urgently because tomorrow isn’t guaranteed. In my own experience, I’ve sought out opportunities that would bring me closer to my “purpose.” While I always knew that I wanted to become an entrepreneur and CEO, I didn’t know how to get there. For this reason, I’ve always been open to finding creative ways to test out different pathways while still maintaining my day job. To discover my purpose, I’ve sat on various non-profit boards, I’ve taken weekend courses in design, I even volunteered in a Google Start-Up accelerator in Warsaw, Poland. Given my inclination for continual experimentation, I didn’t hesitate to take on a role advising Expectful while I was on maternity leave. At the time, I had no idea that it would lead me to the CEO of Expectful. My desire to live urgently resulted in finding a new career that is enriching personally and professionally.

How can our readers follow you online?

Readers can follow Expectful on IG @Expectful. I am @nathaliewalton on IG.

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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